The last few weeks have been extremely busy for everyone at CPJ as we've been preparing for the 2010 International Press Freedom Awards. Today's press conference in Washington will be followed by a series of events culminating in our awards ceremony Tuesday in New York. As always, the awardees make it special.
After they arrived last night in Washington, we went to dinner at a Thai restaurant and got to know each other a little better. Laureano Márquez, from Venezuela, told me he has 200,000 Twitter followers (actually, 200,001 since I'm now following him). Dawit Kebede, from Ethiopia, told us about a great discussion he had yesterday when he visited with journalism students at Howard University. He feels right at home in D.C. and makes new friends on every corner. Washington has a huge immigrant Ethiopian population.
We had some tense moments Wednesday afternoon when Nadira Isayeva, who flew from Dagestan in Russia's North Caucasus, was delayed for several hours clearing U.S. immigration. It turns out officials became suspicious when she told them she was staying at the Waldorf-Astoria, one of New York's swankiest hotels. For the record, Nadira will not be staying there, but it is the venue for our awards ceremony next Tuesday evening. We are expecting about 900 of our closest friends. Mohammad Davari, our fourth awardee, will not make it; he remains imprisoned in Iran.
At the press conference this morning, Nadira spoke about how Russian law essentially classifies criticism of police and security forces as "extremism. " This effectively criminalizes the kind of journalism her newspaper, Chernovik, does every day. Nadira herself is under investigation and faces an eight-year prison sentence if convicted.
Meanwhile, Laureano, who is a satirist and columnist for the Caracas daily Tal Cual, talked about the role of humor in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. "I believe humor is one of the most effective resources for a society to confront authoritarianism and injustice because humor promotes tolerance," he said.
I was struck by a simple phrase from Dawit, who was jailed for 21 months in Ethiopia because of his reporting on the disputed 2005 presidential elections. He said he'd always wanted to be a journalist and that the habit of asking insistent questions began as a child. His father quickly learned that Dawit could not be brushed off easily. "I always wanted answers," Dawit said.
That is true for all of our award winners: They will continue to ask questions--and demand answers--even when it puts their lives and liberty at risk. That is why we are honoring them, and that is what makes all them such remarkable and inspiring people.
Please contact CPJ Advocacy and Communications Associate Magnus Ag at [email protected] or 212-465-1004 x128 to obtain images of the awardees for media use.